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UPSC Essentials — Historical Tidbits: Total war

What is Total war? Aspirants must look into the features and background of this term as World Wars are important topics in the World History of UPSC GS I syllabus.

UPSC, Total wars, world wars, World History for Upsc, UPSC current affairs, UPSC Essentials- Historical Tidbits: Total war, current affairs today, UPSC news, daily current affairs for upsc, UPSC mains 2022Long-drawn wars raise a concern of another world war in the minds of people worldwide. (file image)

Long-drawn wars such as the Russian-Ukraine war raise fears of another world war. But world wars are different from limited wars. A better way to understand it is by knowing the term ‘total war’.  The Indian Express discusses this term for UPSC aspirants.

Syllabus:

Mains Examination- GS I- World History: Events, forms and effects on society since the 18th century (world wars, the industrial revolution, colonisation,  decolonisation, political philosophies like communism, capitalism, socialism, etc.)

What is total war?

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— Total war is a military conflict in which the participants are willing to make any sacrifice in lives and other resources so that they obtain a total or complete victory. This feature makes it different from a limited war.

— The modern concept of total war can be traced to the writings of the 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. Clausewitz denied that wars could be fought by laws. In his major work Vom Kriege (On War) described wars as tending constantly to escalate in violence toward a theoretical absolute. Clausewitz also stressed the importance of crushing the adversary’s forces in battle.

— The concept of total war was put forward by German General Erich Ludendorff in his book Der totale Krieg ( The “Total” War,1935). It was based on the author’s experience in directing Germany’s war effort in World War I. In this book, he analysed the features and characters of World War I and concluded that it was a ‘Total war’. He envisaged total mobilisation of manpower and resources for war. According to him, the country at war would be led by a supreme military commander. The commander’s strategy would be the basis of his dictated policy. It was this concept of total war that is seen in prominent positions in Nazi thinking.

— The concept of Total War was extended to the nuclear age by American General Curtis Emerson LeMay in 1949. He had commented that a war between major powers in the nuclear age would be ‘total’ and the complete human civilisation may get destroyed.

— The modern concept of total war can be traced to the writings of the 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. Clausewitz denied that wars could be fought by laws. In his major work Vom Kriege (On War) described wars as tending constantly to escalate in violence toward a theoretical absolute. Clausewitz also stressed the importance of crushing the adversary’s forces in battle.

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— The modern concept of total war can be traced to the writings of the 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. Clausewitz denied that wars could be fought by laws. In his major work Vom Kriege (On War) described wars as tending constantly to escalate in violence toward a theoretical absolute. Clausewitz also stressed the importance of crushing the adversary’s forces in battle. The two World Wars of the 20th century are usually regarded as total or at least the most total of history’s wars, although they were, of course, limited in numerous ways.

What are some of the features of total war?

(Try to substantiate each point by the facts from World War I and II and justify both World Wars as total wars.)

1. A total war is categorised by the participation of most countries of the world. Most of the major powers of the world participate in a total war.

2. A total war is fought at multiple fronts simultaneously.

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3. Total participation of warring nations is another important feature. It is not just military forces but the entire society that participates in the war to ensure favorable outcomes.

4. It is also categorised by the latest weapons and technologies.

5. Use of weapons for mass destruction is also an important feature of total war.

6. A total war is always long-drawn.

7. No difference is seen between the combats and non-combats in a total war.

8. Development of new military infrastructure is witnessed during total war.

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9. A total war is also characterised by its decisive outcomes. One of the parties involved in the war has to lose to bring the war to an end.

10. A total war is also a war of attrition.

11. Total impact is another important feature of total war. As the entire nation participates, the impact of the war is felt by every dimension of human life.

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(Source: The Shadows of Total War, Edited by Roger Chickering and Stig Forster, britannica.com)

Point to ponder: Critically examine the essential attributes of total war.

First published on: 22-06-2022 at 02:25:32 pm
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